Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Decade, New Spider-Man

Hopefully the new Spider-Man costume won't ride up in the crotch

I am a fan of the Spider-Man film franchise. A lifelong fan of the character, I felt that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire managed to bring Spider-Man to life on the big screen with a care rarely seen in superhero movies. When it was announced they were both on board for Spider-Man 4, I was truly looking forward to more films with the two of them.

Apparently, it is not meant to be. Sony has recently announced that Spider-Man 4 will no longer include Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire and that they are going to reboot the franchise. They are looking for a younger cast and are planning on making the franchise “grittier”. It also sounds like they are hoping to focus more on Spider-Man’s high school years, which were rushed through the first time around.

So as an avowed fan of the franchise so far, what do I think?

Recasting Peter Parker

The recasting of Peter Parker has both pros and cons. Tobey Maguire was a great Peter Parker. He gave us a Peter who was thoughtful, emotional, and believably nerdy. Tobey Maguire’s performance as Peter Parker emphasized that Peter is an everyman, which is what made Peter’s actions as Spider-Man all the more heroic.

On the other hand, I was much less of a fan of Tobey Maguire’s performance when he was behind the mask. His quips as Spider-Man always seemed a bit hollow. Tobey also specializes in conveying his emotions via his facial expressions, which was impossible when his face was hidden behind a full-face mask.

So maybe it is time for a new Spider-Man. Regardless, whoever gets the role should realize that they have pretty big shoes to fill.

A new director

I will miss Sam Raimi. He was a fan of the character and it showed. People often complain when novels are brought to the big screen about how much is left out. How much more complex is this when you have a character with a forty year publication history behind him? Sam Raimi did such an amazing job because as a fan he had a personal vision of Spider-Man to guide him.

This doesn’t mean that the new director won’t be up to the task. It does point to what factors Sony should look to when hiring the new guy. Once again, whoever comes in as director will be judged against the high standard Sam Raimi set.

Rebooting the franchise

I am a worried that it is too soon to reboot the franchise, but continuing the existing series with a brand new cast and new director seems like an equally dubious prospect. Personally, I would rather that they put the franchise on hiatus for a few years.

Of course that will never happen. Spider-Man is a major cash cow for Sony Pictures, and they want to milk it as much as they can while they still have the rights. I used to speculate that Sony would simply buy Marvel rather than let the rights revert back. Now that Disney owns Marvel, that option is off the table. So assuming that the rights will eventually revert to Marvel, it seems more logical to continue with Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi during the time they have left.

According to all reports that was the plan. After Spider-Man 3, Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi seemed ambivalent about doing a fourth installment. Sony went to great lengths to get onboard for Spider-Man 4. So it is a bit of a shock when Sony announced their intention to reboot the franchise instead.

We will probably never know what happen behind closed doors. Regardless, it seems obvious that rebooting the franchise wasn’t Sony’s first choice.

It wouldn’t be my first choice either.

A younger cast

I don’t have a problem with this. Frankly, Tobey Maguire was always a bit old for the part of Peter Parker. While he managed to pull it off pretty well, this is something that became harder to overlook with each successive movie. I think a younger actor playing the part would help underscore how extraordinary it is that Peter chooses to be a hero at an age when most of us were still trying to figure out how to score booze.

A focus on the high school years might also give face time to more of Peter’s supporting cast. While there were a few cameos, only Mary Jane and Harry Osborn had any significant roles in the movies. I would love to see characters like Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, or even Ultimate Spider-Man cast members like Kong get a chance to shine.

A grittier Spider-Man

I hope this is just marketing talking. While I have enjoyed the occasional gritty Spider-Man story (i.e., The Death of Jean DeWolf), it isn’t really where the character belongs. While Peter Parker is often burdened by his own sense of responsibility, being Spider-Man is also a release for him. This sense of fun is as important to Spider-Man as his ability to stick to walls or spin webs!

Final Thoughts

Spider-Man 4 has the deck stacked against it. The first franchise was spectacular, but it seems unlikely that lightning will strike twice. I wouldn’t count Spidey out yet though… he does his best work when the odds are against him!